Museum Exhibit Showcases Diverse Interests of Local Collectors

By Joe DurwinPittsfield Correspondent
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World War I brass casing trench art, collected by Joan and Michael Salke, is one of the exhibits in 'Berkshire Collects.'

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A new exhibit of personal collections from Berkshire residents offers something to interest everyone, but the true memorabilia fan may just think they've died and gone to geek heaven.

Berkshire Collects, which opens at the Berkshire Museum on Saturday, features an eclectic range of "obsessions" from 40 locals, from vintage motorcycles and classic toys to obscure antiques and taxi-dermied creatures straight out of the Berkshire landscape.

"It's very community-based," Museum Director of Marketing Lesley Beck said. "Everybody that's in the show is a full- or part-time resident of the Berkshires."

Participant collectors hail from at least half the towns in Berkshire County, and range widely in age as well as in their pet interests.

"The idea was crowd-sourcing, and reaching out through social media," said Beck, who noted that while a curating committee reached out to some people they already knew, "the bulk of it was just people who wanted to submit what they collected."

The resulting exhibition may surprise many visitors, from unusual nature of some of the objects collected, to the extensive breadth of holdings in more mainstream collections local residents have in their possession.

Bruce Singer's compendium of political campaign memorabilia, for instance, displays hundreds of well-preserved buttons, flyers and other items spanning more than a century. From the much tinier but still impressively photo-realistic pins of the early 20th century to the more garishly effective "If I were 21 I'd vote for Kennedy" giant slogan buttons, many changing nuances in the history of electoral marketing can be seen all within a few feet of one another.

Singer says he began collecting these while working as security guard at the 1972 Democratic and Republican conventions and became hooked, and most of the offerings in "Berkshire Collects" have similar personal anecdotes describing the origins of the collectors' interests. Each collection boasts large placards conveying these stories, along with descriptions of how they went about collecting the items and, in some cases, useful educational background information on just what exactly some of these curious objects are, as some, like Peter Persoff's glass telegraph insulators or Linda Rosner's antique meat grinders, may quite unrecognizable to the uninitiated or younger viewer.

Toy soldiers, vintage phones and unique guitars are just a few of the things 'Berkshire Collects.'

"People create collections for reasons as varied as the collections themselves," according to statement by Linda Norris, an independent museum professional who put the show together working closely with Director of Interpretation Maria Mingalone and Collections Manager Leanne Hayden. "Some collectors seek out beauty; others childhood memories; and others cherish the rare and unusual ...

"'Berkshire Collects' celebrates both the collections and the collectors by exploring the motivation behind their passions, and by including a number of interactive activities in the galleries, visitors to the exhibition may be inspired to begin collections of their own.”

Slightly more conventional collections such as original Star Wars toys, Green Hornet-related items, and one anonymous collector's comic books scores, stroked the particular interests of this correspondent, while others, such as Joan and Michael Salke's grouping of World War I "trench art," introduced whole new areas of interest that were largely unknown.

One anonymous Dalton collector's staggering array of guitars is enough to impress anyone, and sure to leave the practicing musician salivating. The exhibit also boasts the occasional incredibly rare item of interests, such as a Britten V1000 motorcycle, one of only 10 in the world, and worth around a quarter million though only about 20 years old.

Of particular local flavor is Rene Wendell Sr.'s personal artifacts of animals he has taxidermied, which includes a number of local animals, including two record-holding fish caught in Pittsfield's Onota and Pontoosuc lakes. His son, Rene Wendell Jr., also has several conversation-worthy collections in the show, including some striking vintage matchbooks and antique metal condom tins.

"People are going to learn a lot," summarized Beck. "I just think this is going to be a very easy, casual, non-overly intellectual exhibition. It's just cool stuff that people collect."

An opening reception for "Berkshire Collects" will be held Saturday, Jan. 25, from 5 to 7 p.m. Guests can take a first look at the exhibition, meet some of the collectors, and enjoy light refreshments. Admission is $5; free for museum members. The exhibit, sponsored by Greylock Federal Credit Union, runs through May 11.

Tags: Berkshire Museum,   collectibles,   exhibit,   

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